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Transitional Magic from Elliott Smith

August 2010

Aruba, 1992…..on holiday.

Elliott Smith knew the hotel’s talent contest was in the bag. By then he’d been performing magic for 34 years, and the crowd loved his session. Then the manager asked him to stay for another week and do some shows; the hotel would comp the room and meals for him and his wife. Smith says the decision was a no-brainer.

And then he figured that a lot of Caribbean resorts might feel the same way. So he tried cold calling because his day job as a salesman was full of cold calling. It worked, and down south each year, he’d perform a few magic shows each week and spend the rest of the time on the beach.

Then he quit his job as a salesman because magic was all he really wanted to do. He stayed in contact with the other talent in the islands and back home in Ottawa because networking was like a compass for his life, and that put him so far ahead of the social-networking curve that it makes him laugh.

Elliott Smith's metamorphosis. Photo by Mike Levin.

And then other performers wanted to know how Smith used his networking so successfully, so he co-authored a book called Highway to Success: The Entertainer’s Roadmap to Business, which spells out the basics of contracts and marketing, cold calls and customer referrals that any small businessman needs to know because “there’s a lot of job frustration out there, and people don’t know how to make the transition.

“It really is common sense, deciding what you love, seeing an opportunity and working hard to make it go. And knowing that you need other people to make it work, so you’d better get to know those people.” And that’s how Elliott Smith, of the Ottawa Smiths, ended up making a living in magic.

Except: as he approaches a seventh decade, his arc of life has become so integrated that moments are no longer individuated but allied into a completely new organism.

Like the effect of his father Morris, who was a math whiz but too poor to study at university. And how dad started the Shaver Shop downtown and figured out the internal workings of every machine that came through the door, then offered free servicing to customers every six months. Elliott sat at the workshop bench and watched. “I saw what he did; it became a metamorphosis, and then I had to figure everything out.”

Like the magic set his parents gave him at age six. “I was the small Jewish magician, so I became the kidder. The ladies at the library loved me.”

Or like the effect of university, which led nowhere, and two decades working at Indian and Northern Affairs, Mother’s Pizza and as a seller of corporate gifts and premiums. It was a living, and there were always the magic shows and the vocal fluency that came with performing.

Smith likes telling stories, about his wife’s mother who survived the Holocaust’s concentration camps with her twin sister or his wife’s father who survived the Nagasaki atomic blast as a prisoner of war working underground in a coal mine.

You can’t make this up, but you can add value with a finely honed routine.

It’s one reason he also does corporate training and motivational speeches, because “what goes around, comes around.” And what came around in Aruba may have been unexpected but it certainly wasn’t unconnected. It was simply Elliott Smith taking a new compass reading.

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